Security, Defence, and Development in Nigeria: The Challenge of Oil Theft and Maritime Insecurity

Security, Defence, and Development in Nigeria: The Challenge of Oil Theft and Maritime Insecurity


Bola A. Akinterinwa 

‘Security, Defence, and Development in Nigeria’ was the initial title of the lecture delivered by Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Leo Irabor, on Thursday, 25th August, 2022. It was delivered on the platform of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Kofo Abayomi, Victoria Island. The lecture came on the heels of the NIIA’s online ‘Roundtable on Insecurity in Nigeria,’ held on Friday, 15th July, 2022 and on the heels of the interception by Equatorial Guinea of a crude-laden vessel, MV Heroic Idun, with International Maritime Organisation number 9858058. The vessel loaded crude oil from Nigeria without the required relevant NNPC documentation papers, but apparently with official complicity.

True, the lecture title is quite apt, especially that Nigeria has become a terra cognita for various acts of terror (armed banditry, herdsmen aggression, kidnapping, train-jacking, etc) and therefore raises theoretical questions of security, defence and development. And true again, security means a collateral or a guarantee in exchange for something in terms of bank loans.  Militarily, it is a situation of peace, tranquillity, that is, being free from threats or danger. It is about safety. Defence, etymologically, is from a Latin word, defendere and from old French, defens, both meaning defence.  Defence in litigation or law suit is about neutralising allegations  by claimants by providing counter legal arguments. In terms of military and ensuring security, defence is about responding to an attack or preventing it. It is about the means of ensuring a state of security by creating barriers against attacks, self-fortification against an enemy. 

The critical linkage between security and defence, on the one hand, and development, on the other, is that all African leaders strongly believe that there cannot be any meaningful development, especially economic growth and better life-standard without peace and security. Development cannot thrive in an environment of belligerence and insecurity. This is what currently obtains in Nigeria under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB). It is against this background that the lecture of General Leo Irabor should be understood. 

Thus, we contend that insecurity has become recidivist in Nigeria because of governmental untruth. Consequently, no amount of defence strengthening can bring about security without genuine commitment to fighting national insecurity. Insecurity in Nigeria is not simply about fighting terror but avoiding government support for terror or economic sabotage, as clearly shown by the case of the recent oil theft by the MV Heroic Idun.

The Lecture

The lecture also took place against the background of two complementary rationales, on the one hand, and controversial perceptions on military self-evaluation of doing well and public belief in the contrary. As regards rationales, Professor Eghosa Osaghae, Chief Executive and Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), differentiated in his welcoming remarks, between ‘prevention is key to defence’ and ‘prevention is better than cure.’ Methodologically, the common saying that prevention is better than cure necessarily implies that there are two analytical levels: a state of prevention, which does not allow for a situation of disaster to exist. What is better as an approach in solution finding is not allowing a problem to even exist.

More important, when it is admitted that prevention is better than cure, the notion of cure suggests that the problem is already a fait accompli, and because it is already existing, finding a solution to the trouble can be greatly tasking. Consequently, in the eyes of Professor Osaghae, rather than underscore solutions-finding after problems and dissipating of energy, efforts are being made by the NIIA to evolve an approach to neutralise all forms of threats that can engender insecurity. The NIIA sees prevention as a potent tool. This explains why the Chief of Defence Staff, General Leo Irabor, was invited to come and share his ideas on ‘Security, Defence and Development in Nigeria, with the ultimate objective of articulating the dynamics of national insecurity. This also explains why the NIIA is also putting in place an early warning analytical programmes.

The rationale for the lecture, and particularly for slightly modifying the topic as given, is deductively to disabuse the public mind that the Nigerian military has either not being doing well, or not doing enough, or working against public interest. He retitled the lecture topic as ‘Contemporary Security Environment and National Development: Efforts of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.’ As General Irabor put it, the reason for slightly changing the lecture topic is ‘to bring into more focus the ongoing efforts of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) to curtail contemporary security threats with the attendant consequences on Nigeria’s national development.’

Without any jot of gainsaying, the new topic and intention to underscore efforts hitherto made to contain insecurity in Nigeria cannot be faulted even if it is self-justifying. Again, there is nothing wrong in self-justification or singing songs of self-praise. What eventually matters is that a sizable percentage of the Nigerian elite holds a negative view of the roles of the Nigerian military in the war against terror. This is why the lecture is quite apt and interesting.

In the lecture that actually began at 11.29am, concluded at 12.42 pm, and followed by a question-and-answer session until 2.30 pm, General Irabor gave an overview of the environment of insecurity in the country’s six-political zones; delineated some contending issues in the environment and related to national development; focused greater attention on the patriotic efforts of the Armed Forces of Nigeria in containing security threats and enhancing national development; and provided an actionable leeway for the government.

As regards environmental insecurity and issues involved in the six geo-political zones, General Irabor noted that the Northeast is Nigeria’s most volatile and intense security environment, ‘the largest, most ethnically, religiously, linguistically diverse geo-political zone’ and which also ‘reveal high level of poverty, infrastructural decay, lack of development, poor governance, unfavourable climatic conditions and differences in religious cultures. This  situation has negatively impacted on food security and socio-economic activities thereby militating against national development.’ 

In the Northwest, General Irabor has it that there is a steep rise in violent crimes because of poverty, poor governance, cultural and political inadequacies, low literacy rate, large unemployment of youth. This is in spite of the fact that the Northwest comprises some of the richest states in the north. The situation is not all that different in the North Central zone, which is the zone playing host to increasing communal violence, ethno-religious conflicts and farmers-herders clashes, all of which are exacerbated by ethno-religious-driven political violence.

The Southwest zone is relatively peaceful and most economically viable region in the eyes of General Irabor. It is also the region with the highest literacy rate in the country but  challenged by armed robbery, kidnapping, political thuggery and ethnic militia violence, cyber and financial fraud, weapon trafficking, sea robbery and border crimes. In the Southeast and South-South, the Chief of Defence Staff says ‘the prevailing security environment is characterised by militancy, ethnic violence, communal conflicts, separatist agitations, environmental degradation, political violence, drug abuse/trafficking, oil theft and vandalism, as well as other crimes occasioned by the existence of large populations of unemployed youths.’

Regarding contending issues, General Irabor noted four of them that required further explanation: socio-political environment; the role of the media and security; regional security dynamics; and economic security. The point of emphasis in socio-political environment is what led to the new dimension of insecurity which he traced to the killing of the boko haramists in 2009. He advised that ‘all government agencies must use their mediums of influence to remind Nigerians of the need to be more security conscious. 

For the media, being the societal watchdog, there is the need for caution when reporting security activities. General Irabor explicated that ‘many are of the opinion that the media often sensationalize their reportage to the detriment of national security. Even though the military boss admits that the media in some other climes understands the power of positive projection and they deliberately use it for the unity and development of their nations… it is important to constantly bear in mind that nation-building, security and development is a slow and dynamic process which requires the cooperation of all the press inclusive.’

And finally on regional security dynamics, General Irabor had it that climate change, flooding and desertification, epidemic and pandemic, etc., are fuelling socio-economic malaise afflicting most of Nigeria’s neighbours and that this malaise creates the environment that incubates terrorism, violent extremism, transnational organised crimes and cross-border banditry. More importantly, General Irabor talked about economic security and maritime security. For him, ‘economic security is the condition of having a stable income or other resources to support a standard of living now and in the foreseeable future. It includes continued solvency, job security, sustainability of the future cash flow of a person or other economic entity… Economic security cannot be sustained without an enabling environment.’

Maritime insecurity is what I found most disturbingly, because of the issue of the Idun vessel. In the words of General Irabor, ‘as a result of the unrelenting activities of oil thieves and pipeline vandals, the country’s revenue earnings have remained threatened by criminals who engage in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, sea robbery and Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in our continental shelf..’ Additionally, he said ‘the threats in the maritime domain are deepened by the absence of viable navies in several littoral states in the Gulf of Guinea, thereby making the task of securing the Sea Line of Communication (SLOC) quite difficult.’ We agree with the submissions of Chief of Defence Staff, but he only opted to give one side of the coin or only his own version of the truth. The Idun vessel saga lends much credence to Government’s complicity in the ravaging insecurity and economic sabotage in the country.

Maritime Insecurity and Official Complicity  

As noted above, Equatorial Guinean authorities intercepted a crude-laden vessel, MV Heroic Idun with International Maritime Organisation number 9858058 on 15 July 2022. The vessel is a super-tanker, 336-metre long, and has the capacity to carry two million barrels of oil. It is owned by Hunter Tankers and domiciled in Scandinavia, in Norway but operated by the Trafigura Maritime Logistics in the Netherlands. What is noteworthy about the vessel is that it did not have any loading approval as at the time of loading. Normally the required loading approval papers are to be issued by the NNPC.

As generally reported, the vessel arrives at the Total Safe Anchorage operated by the Akpo Oil Field for loading but was discovered not to have the required NNPC clearance paper. The Nigerian security officials knew quite well that the vessel did not have any official authority to load. However, it loaded fully on 08 August 2022 without papers. Why was this so? Available information has it that the vessel’s agent, Messrs Inchcape Shipping, reportedly directed that the vessel’s captain and crew should not listen to Nigerian directives. 

Based on this, rather than accept to be arrested, the vessel refused to cooperate, increased its velocity, and raised a false alarm to the International Maritime Bureau, arguing that his vessel was under pirate attack. Notably, raising a false alarm took place after the vessel was first accosted after fleeing Nigeria’s Akpo Oilfield. The arrest was to no avail. But why? How do we explain the fact that the vessel could load without official authority? It is on record that the NNS Gongola ordered the vessel to sail to Bonny Fairway Buoy for interrogation but the Captain disregarded the directive given by the NNS Gongola? More interestingly, when the vessel altered its course towards Sao-Tome and Principe, why was there no application of the principle of hot pursuit?

The principle of hot pursuit in international law enables the Nigerian naval police or maritime authorities to pursue any vessel that commits any crime within their territorial waters. The loading facility is within Nigeria’s territorial waters. Put differently, Article 11 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that ‘every State has the right to establish the breath of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention.’ 

Additionally, hot pursuit, also referred to as immediate or fresh pursuit is ‘a doctrine that provides that the police may enter the premises where they suspect a crime has been committed without a warrant and when delay would endanger the lives of others and lead to the escape of the alleged perpetrator.’ Thus, if the NNS Gongola ordered the vessel to sail to the Bonny Fairway Buoy but refused to comply, what prevented the application of the principle of hot pursuit?

This is where the various arguments of poor equipment, military inability to perform are not tenable and why the armed bandits and boko haramists have always been able to overpower the Nigerian military. All the recommendations proffered by General Irabor are good, but at best, are secondary. They do not result directly from the root cause of insecurity in Nigeria. Interrogatively put, who strengthened the agents of the vessel to disregard the directives given to the captain of the vessel? Why was Nigeria unable to arrest the vessel and it took Equatorial Guinea to do so? How did the vessel manage to enter Nigeria’s waters without permission? How can a foreign vessel arrive and load crude oil without NNPC documentation?

What is perhaps very funny is the purported statement of the spokesperson of the Nigerian Navy who reportedly told Nigerians and warned other oil thieves that they would be dealt with severely in the event of fresh thefts. The statement is funny because the Nigerian Navy was not responsible for the attachment of the vessel. Whatever is the case, the military capacity of the Nigerian Navy, despite its teething problems, is never in doubt. Our point here is that there is governmental complicity in the current problematique with which Nigeria is currently faced.

Many are the reports pointing to many leaders of Nigeria aiding and abetting insecurity and economic sabotage. How do we explain a video that appears to have gone viral, in which a French national, Juan Rémy Quignolot, with a French passport number 17FV00021 issued by the Embassy of France in the Central African Republic and expiring on 31 January 2027, is the pilot of an helicopter purportedly owned by General Abdulsalaam Abubakar? The helicopter is reportedly ‘supplying food, weapons, and ammunitions to bandits, kidnappers, Fulani herdsmen and cattle rustlers and has been arrested by local indigenes of Arina village, Shiroro local government, in Niger State.’

Many questions are raised here: who is the helicopter pilot, Juan Quignolot, working for? Is he piloting for General Abdusalaam Abubakar, the alleged owner of the helicopter? Is he working for the French government? Some civil society organisations organised a protest in front of French Embassy in Abuja in December 2019. They accused France of aiding and abetting insurrectionists in Nigeria. The convener of the protest, Princess Ajibola, not only claimed to have concrete evidence of French support for the Boko Haram but said that the protest is for ‘the rescue of the soul of our dear country, Nigeria, from the forces of evil that have attempted to cause disharmony and disintegration by covertly sponsoring the activities of terrorists in Nigeria?

In fact, Mali’s Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, similarly accused France last week Monday of ‘acts of aggression’ and of aiding and abetting terrorists in the Sahel by ‘collecting information for terrorist groups operating in the Sahel and dropping arms and ammunition to them.’ In this regard, Mali has pleaded with the UNSC to help stop France abetting aggression against Mali (vide

We cannot also ignore the open letter addressed to all Fulani through the Emir of Sokoto in his capacity as leader of all the Fulani and all Muslims in Nigeria. The open letter is in the social media and quite thought provoking. It clearly shows that insecurity in Nigeria is no longer simply about the postulations propagated by government and the military. This is why it is most unfortunate that General Irabor gave a very interesting lecture but had little time to accommodate the many intending interlocutors, like Usman Chuya of the University of Maiduguri, Anthony Isa, Professor Adoyi, Ambassador Joe Keshi, Amb (Dr. Aderele Ajibewa, Abiodun Ayodele, etc., who  joined by zoom and who could not be accommodated during the question and answer session. 

Without scintilla of doubts, the lecture generated much interest and after-lecture reflections. For instance, Ambassador Joe Keshi, former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,  believes that ‘against the backdrop of the general perception and accusations against the military, it (lecture) was an opportunity to tell whether what is being said about the military is true or not, from shortage or lack of equipment to poor leadership, poor welfare, sabotage or lack of freehand to do its job to corruption, including purchase of opaque equipment, etc.’ Perhaps more significantly, Ambassador Keshi recalled that ‘the same challenges the military faced in the last decade in its fight against Boko Haram are the same problems it faced for ten years in Liberia and Sierra Leone and this raises the question of what lessons the military has learnt from its operations or engagement in the two countries.’`

And most importantly, the Chairman of the event, Prince Julius Adelusi, polyglot and former Minister, jokingly contributed three points for extra-lecture reflections. First is the acronym, OAU which meant Organisation of African Unity until the advent of African Union. OAU is also Obafemi Awolowo University but Prince Adelusi says it is now ‘Oba Awon Universities,’ that is the King of Universities.’ Second, he did not see any big deal with the outcry of insecurity, by simply drawing attention to an April 1969 publication which reported on bandits kidnap. Thirdly, and more significantly, he reminded of Winston Churchill saying that we must not allow any crisis to waste. We must learn from it. Prince Adelusi also suggested that everyone should turn his or her negative narratives to positive ones. Is this possible in Nigeria where patriotism and honesty of purpose is consciously sanctioned? This question is raised because, after the lecture, some friends called me to advise me to stop criticising Government to avoid being ‘neutralised’. What is wrong if I do not agree with General Irabor’s version of the truth? Psychology of human differences allows for academic differences. True, the Federal Government is worse than a terrorist. Alhaji Lateef Jakande, then Minister of Works and Housing, advertised and collected money from the public, including me, in April 1994, for the building and allocation of a medium semi-detached bungalow in FESTAC. Till today, the building meant to be allocated by December 1994, is yet to be built as at August 2022. No building, no allocation and no refund. Besides, the NIIA management is yet to refund my four million naira and the entitlements of five others, being my and their legitimate allowances and personal expenses incurred in running government business. Reason for non-payment: the required documents for payment cannot be found. The truth: the Director of Administration and Finance, Ms. Agatha Ude, and Director of Library, Mrs. Bimbo Dada, paid themselves their own entitlements after I left, from the same documents they could not find. In fact, the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council, not only protected them, but also laid a bad foundation for the appointment of ‘Governing Council Professors’ rather than for NIIA Professors. The court will soon hear the non-payment case. So if anyone wants to kill me, that will not obliterate the truth already established or prevent God from blessing my death. It is well with my would-be killers.

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